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Math Geek Mom: Winter at Ursuline College
February 24, 2011 - 8:36pm

I have never been a huge fan of “time series regression”, as I usually use what is known as “cross sectional analysis” in my own work. The statistical technique of time series analysis allows one to calculate a trend line that professes to explain how something changes over time. As part of the process of calculating this, it is common to remove seasonal influences in the data, to better explain what is occuring. For example, wrapping paper may sell better around December than in June, while bathing suits sell better in July than in November. I thought of this effect of seasonal influences the other day while chatting with my students before my statistics class started.

My students spent a few minutes telling me about campus life from their perspective. I was amused to hear what they had to say, and laughed along with them as they filled me in on the details of life at a college that I visit only a limited number of hours a day.

At the center of our campus is a small lake with a fountain in the middle of it. This lake was formed years ago from several streams that used to run through the campus property. Today, it is a large pond that serves as a reflecting pool to the picturesque buildings on campus. Several years ago, our attention was focused on this lake when we all received a message saying that boats were absolutely NOT allowed on the lake. We were confused as to why this note came, until we learned that some students, including some student leaders, had managed to take a small row boat out into the lake, and were caught doing so.

This lake is often visited by geese and ducks on their way through the area. We are all very aware of this, as the geese leave “calling cards” wherever they travel which, are quickly swept away, leaving the campus inviting and safe. Apparently, as my students told me, they also disrupt life in the dorms in what is otherwise a quiet, peaceful campus. My students told me that this time of year, the geese return with loud “honking” that disrupts student sleep, and, I assume, studying. I told my family this story a few nights ago at dinner, complete with my imitation of the geese honking. Both my daughter and husband were amused at my geese sounds, and asked me “how did that go again?” I declined to repeat my imitation, but left them laughing.

Although the geese are back from their migration, it is still very much winter on campus, with trees covered with ice and snow. At times this leads to difficulty with students getting to campus, and one of my morning classes has set up a “phone tree” so we can notify each other if I can’t make it on time to class. I have never actually used this, but it is nice to know that it exists, in case I get stranded on the highway in the course of my commute. I was therefore very surprised the other day to receive a text message saying that class was cancelled, signed “Dr. E.” I am still investigating the origin of that message, but suspect it is the reason my class was particularly poorly attended that day. So far, no one admits to playing any role in its creation.

This past week, I received an e-mail from a commuter student explaining to me why she was not in class. It seems that she had been frozen out of her car, and, in an attempt to get into it, had locked herself out with the car running. She managed to get back into her apartment, but was still waiting for help in getting into her car by the time our class started. It reminded me of a similar experience I had while in graduate school, one that left me with only one unfrozen way into my car; the trunk. Did you know that you can crawl into a car from the trunk of a car (or at least, from the trunk of that car from the 1980s)? I managed to do that, and get the car running until it defrosted, allowing me to make it to my class.

Officially, spring begins in a few weeks. Having lived in Ohio for more than two decades, I know that I can’t expect flowers and green trees immediately. However, soon the ice and snow will melt and tiny light green buds will appear on the trees around campus. It will not be long then until something else appears on campus; mortar boards on our graduating seniors. I look forward to that happy day.


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